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Archive for November, 2013

The below article is pretty self explanatory and was written about someone who most of us that attended Fort Gay High School during the turbulent 1940’s would have known.  The article was written by Charles Frasher as a tribute to his brother Jack.  He graduated in 1946 and led a multifaceted life there after.  Thanks to Dan Watts for sending this along

Fort Gay’s own daredevil airman

            By CHARLES PORTIS FRASHER

            Jack Lester Frasher, named for his father’s best friend, Luther Lester Lycan, was born in Fort Gay WV in 1928. Those were the days when boys squatted down around a circle of marbles and shot with their best tall. And Jack was a marbles champion of Fort Gay Graded School.

In those times the boys slipped away from their mother’s sight and swam in the Big Sandy River, paying the consequences when their mothers smelled the river water on their hair that night. Some summer nights they caught June bugs and tied strings on their legs and watched the bugs fly around and around. But in Jack Frasher’s mind, he was dreaming about the day when he would do the flying. He would climb in an airplane and fly around the world. As a matter of fact, he drew pictures of the plane that he planned to fly.

Oh, what he wouldn’t give for an airplane! In his mind we are sure that he dreamed of flying over Fort Gay…..over Louisa! He would finally get a bird’s-eye view of his home. “By gosh,” he probably thought “if I had an airplane, I would fly it under the Fort Gay-Louisa Bridge”.

His mother, Myrt Frasher, would often declare that she never could keep a bar of soap in the house because Jack got every single bar and whittled an airplane out of it. As a boy, Jack drew pictures of airplanes. He carved planes from blocks of wood. We are sure that he dreamed of airplanes.

The years went by. After graduation from Fort Gay High School, Jack, Frank Robinson and Fred Reid joined the U.S.  Air Force. The three were close buddies. Perhaps they saw joining up as a way to see the world as well as a way to finance their college expenses with the GI Bill. And we are sure Jack was searching for a ride in that plane because he joined the Air Force where most all of the airmen would have some connection with an airplane.

After serving his stint for his country, Jack returned to Greenville, S.C., and married Lillian Dow, the girl of his dreams whom he met at Donaldson Air Base in Greenville. After completing undergraduate work at Marshall and Furman, where Jack taught chemistry for a year or so, the couple moved to Baltimore where he entered dental school.  After graduation, Jack and Lil and their young son, Jackie, moved back to Greenville and Jack set up a dental practice there.

Sure, he loved fishing, boating and other sports, but still what he really wanted was a plane.  Finally, he was able to buy his own, and the day came when he flew it to Huntington to pick up his brother, Charlie, and they flew to Morgantown to see a Mountaineer football game. Hot Dog!  They were going in style! Jack was flying his own airplane.

After the game, they flew over Louisa and Jack buzzed his sister Pat’s house and then flew back to Huntington and dropped off Charlie at Tri-State Airport.  Then Jack headed back out into the wild blue yonder!  He followed the Big Sandy River as he began his trip back to South Carolina.  In a few minutes he saw the Tug and Levisa forks of the Big Sandy with  the Fort Gay-Louisa Bridge spanning both rivers. He lined up the nose of his plane with the Tug Fork and got in just the right position.  Whoosh! I can see him in my mind swooping down like a big bird, slowing down and sweeping under the widest part of the bridge—-then whoosh, and he was under the bridge….now he was nosing up, up, up! And he was heading home. He had achieved his longtime dream. He had flown under the bridge!

That night Charlie Frasher heard about Jack’s latest adventure.  The next day, Sunday,  Charlie and his wife, Joy, left Hamlin where he operated a pharmacy, and drove to Fort Gay and Louisa. As they came through Fort Gay and approached the bridge, they were discussing Jack’s claim of flying under it. “I don’t believe it,” Joy said. “Ask the toll collector.”  When they stopped to pay the toll, on impulse, Charlie asked the toll collector, “Anyone flew under the bridge lately?”  The man chuckled and said, “Not lately.”  Then he paused and  his eyes widened as he said:  “Did yesterday! Was that you?” I can imagine his reaction the day before when he heard the roar of Jack’s plane as it swept under the bridge and seemed to rise up out of the dark water of the Tug Fork before it climbed into the sky and headed for South Carolina.

Jack had a very active life, He was a Fort Gay boy who had dreams. He accomplished many of those dreams and one of  them was to fly under the bridge. That flight comes to our minds often. We cherish the memory of his spirit.

Jack’s love of the outdoors was cited in a story written by Herb Johnson in a Greenville newspaper.  It mentions that Jack got his first shotgun when he was eight years old,  a .410  single barrel, which he used to hunt rabbits and squirrels.  His dad, Lace, urged him to hunt birds with him, and he shot his first quail, when he was 12.

His next shotgun was a .20 gauge. He won turkey shoots and the State Handicap Trap Shoot in 1968,. But when he began using it to shoot geese with No. 6 shot, he had to get an eyewitness because no one believed him.  “After that, no one would believe my eyewitness, either,” Jack quipped.

Jack died of brain cancer in 1994. He wanted his ashes thrown off the bridge.  So one misty evening, his second wife, Pat, his brother, Charlie, and his sister-in-law, Joy, stood on the bridge remembering his daring spirit as they threw his ashes from the middle of the span into the Tug River.

The Fort Gay-Louisa Bridge was a narrow, antiquated structure built for horses and buggies and was sadly out-of-date by the time it was replaced in the 1970s.  But it was an engineering marvel when built and opened to traffic in 1906 and a boon to commerce between the two communities it served.

Before construction, you either used a ferry, a boat or you waded when the rivers were shallow enough.

A popular Louisa dentist, now deceased, had the distinction of being the one person born on the bridge.  Dr. John N. Ryan, who was married to the former Valeria Roberts of Fort Gay, was born Oct. 24, 1918, in a two-story toll house on the Point Section at the middle of the bridge. His mother, Mrs. Mary Waldeck Ryan, made her home with her parents, the late Mr. and Mrs. John A. Waldeck.  Mrs. Ryan and her father were employed as toll collectors.  His father, C.C. Ryan, worked for the C&O Railway Co.

Dr. Ryan lived in the toll house for about 10 years, during which time he saw an airplane fly under  the structure.  An Army aviator, Major John Woods, flew under the bridge in a bi-plane on the Levisa side about 1925 or 1926.  He made it safely under the span and narrowly missed power lines strung across the river downstream.

(Charlie Frasher was assisted in writing this memoir of his brother, Jack, by his wife, Joy, and his sister, Patty Frasher Wallace.  The bridge information came from the Fort Gay-Cassville Centennial Observer published by Dan & Cora Watts in 1975.)

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